Nothing is more disheartening than taking your shirt off—whether you’re on the beach or in the sack—when you’ve got a colony of angry pimples on your back. Don’t just think it’ll go away on its own either; not treating acne can actually make your breakouts worse.
And while there’s no way to prevent it from happening in the first place or cure it so it doesn’t happen again in the future, there are remedies and lifestyle fixes that can help treat your blemishes. First you have to know where you’re going wrong.
“Back acne is caused by the same factors that cause facial acne, i.e. hormones, germs, and sweat,” says David Stoll, MD, and there’s definitely a genetic component. (Thank Mom and Dad—or some other relative for the bad skin genes.) Some people are just genetically programmed to get acne.
Unfortunately, bacne is typically more severe in men than women. In fact, it’s almost exclusive to men, Stoll adds.
Sweat is really your enemy here. Blemishes are formed by clogged pores. While there are pores covering your whole body; the follicles that house oil-producing sebum glands are biggest and most numerous on your face, upper back, and chest. Starting to make sense now? When these glands produce too much oil, your pores get plugged up with dead skin, bacteria, and dirt. The result? Whiteheads, blackheads, cystic acne—painful, sometimes red, deeply rooted pimples—and other lesions.
If you’re struggling with more than the occasional back pimple, see a dermatologist. (Though, you should get regular checkups with your dermatologist anyway.) “Oral antibiotics and topical antibiotics, like erythromycin pads, can treat the germs and ‘de-grease’ your skin at the same time,” Stoll says.
As for your daily grooming regimen, Stoll recommends showering every day (hey, the percentage of men who don’t shower every day might surprise you) with an antibacterial soap; exfoliate with a loofah (just make sure it’s able to dry completely between sessions and you replace it every few weeks or so). After, apply a spot treatment before bed that has salicylic acid in it (benzoyl peroxide may be too irritating for your back, Stoll says). You can even try acne-clearing sprays to help you get hard-to-reach-places on your back. And as Stoll mentioned, if you’re not seeing results with over-the-counter products, see a dermatologist for a prescription-strength solution. Click to the next page to find out how to prevent back acne in the first place.
Small changes to your everyday routine can make a huge impact on your skin health. At the gym, wipe down benches if you’re wearing a tank (or, avoid the issue altogether and wear a breathable t-shirt… i.e. not spandex). This is huge: Make sure you shower after you work out so the sweat doesn’t plug up your pores. Even if you live 20 minutes from the gym, it’s best to get out of your sweaty clothes and clear the moisture from your skin before bacteria can have its way. If your job requires you to wear heavy layers in hot environments, you’re going to be fighting a constant uphill battle. Get out of your uniform as soon as you can and follow the tips above. Wear loose-fitting clothing when possible.